This is fascinating! I'm actually going to a good friend's traditional Indian wedding this summer so I'll keep these tips in mind
We’ve talked a lot about weddings this week, and it’s important to remember that every culture around the world celebrates love in its own unique way. In some East Asian countries, for example, you’re more likely to wear white to a funeral than a wedding. In South Asia, weddings can last anywhere from 3 to 7 days. And you can expect a huge guest list at Israeli weddings—a historic wedding once included 10,000 guests!
So, if you’ve received an invite to a wedding from a different culture this season, it’s a good idea to do some research. For starters, here’s a glimpse into a few customs from around the world.
1. Gender Segregation at Afghan Weddings
In Kabul, Afghanistan, weddings are extravagant, sparing no expense. Women don their finest jewelry and beautiful Western ball gowns (after removing their burqas inside the wedding hall). Interestingly, you may find that women sit separated from men with a divider between the two groups—under the Taliban, weddings were gender segregated and often policed for enforcement. Do not try to challenge this, as guests can get into trouble if a breach is reported. Just grab your phone instead—men and women keep each other posted on what’s happening on the opposite side through texting and email.
2. In Korea, a Gift Gatekeeper
It might be strange to see a “gatekeeper” checking off who’s brought gifts or envelopes in a little black book, but in Korea, only after you drop off your gift of money will you receive your meal ticket. Didn’t bring a gift? You won’t be able to eat with the other guests.
Gifting also must be done with extreme care. If you give a gift of money, the bills must be crisp and new in a pristine envelope. And the amount of the gift depends on your status and relationship to the bride or groom—for example, if you are the head of the office where one of them works, you would be expected to give a larger cash gift than if you were a casual acquaintance. (The amount you give increases the higher your societal rank and the closer your relationship with the couple.)
And don’t expect a large after-party: Wedding festivities typically last only 1-2 hours.
3. Pin the Money on the Bride in Poland
Around the end of a Polish wedding, guests pin money on the bride (or drop it in the maid of honor’s apron) to have a dance with her. Then, the guests encircle the bride, and the groom breaks through the circle to take away the money, which goes towards household or honeymoon expenses for the couple. At modern Polish weddings, you should bring a gift (in an envelope or a box), and some cash for the traditional dancing.
4. The Bottoms Up Bride in Burma
At Hill Tribe weddings in a Yao community near the border of Burma, the guest list might include 700 villagers at 70 tables filled with whiskey and delicious Yao food. The bride is not only expected to greet all guests, but also to take a shot of a special rice whiskey at every table as a way to gain prosperity, luck, and happiness. That can be up to 70 shots—how she’s still standing by the end of the reception is an amazing feat! (Note: if you don’t want the home-brewed whiskey, ask for Coca-Cola!)
5. India: Sari vs. Salwar
The first thing you might think when invited to an Indian ceremony is “Can I wear a sari!?” But keep in mind that, while sarees are beautiful and fun to experiment with, they might not be your best option if you’re not used to the attire. A few meters of cloth and heavy embellishment can make a sari hard to move around (or dance) in without practice. (Bridal sarees can include up to 16 pounds in embellishment!)
If you’re not ready to be draped in textiles, opt for an elegant salwar suit instead, which is still beautiful, but will allow you freer movement. Don’t forget that some parts of the ceremony may call for Western wear, so make sure to ask the couple what’s appropriate.
When attending weddings in an unfamiliar culture, the most important thing is to do what’s comfortable for you, while being respectful and open to learning about the traditions. No, you probably won’t know everything going in—and it’s okay if you make a mistake—but you’ll be more comfortable (and have more fun!) if you do some research beforehand. And if you’re stumped, definitely just ask the bride and groom or other wedding guests about certain rituals.
No matter how different a wedding ritual is, remember to enjoy the celebration—and the unique ways in which we recognize love around the world.
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